A checklist for having a terrible bike adventure:

  • Riding the toughest most technical trails I’ve ever been on:  Check.
  • Riding while really sick – beginning as a cold and turning into some kind of flu:  Check.
  • Getting an average f 3.5 hours of sleep for the three days heading into the trip:  Check.
  • Riding way too many hours, 12+, each day:  Check.
  • Riding at an altitude of over 7,000 feet:  Check.
  • Riding with about 25 pounds of gear on the bike and my back:  Check.
  • Expecting to ride for many hours at a time with no water sources:  Check.
  • There’s a chance of snow:  Check.
  • Having to bail on the original ride plan after the first day:  Check.

A checklist for having the most amazing adventure imaginable:  See above.

Watching the Approaching Storm - photo - Rob Vandermark

Ride Overview

This was our most ambitious trip yet.  Bikepacking by plane, on a route I didn’t create, with multiple nights of camping, and big temperature swings.

  • Purpose:  ‘Racing’ the Coconino 250.  This is a warm up ride for a bigger project on the horizon.  I use the expression ‘racing’ loosely because I had no intention of going at race-pace but I wanted to ride this loop; riding the race seemed like a good idea.  Unfortunately we had a conflict with the race weekend so we intended to ride the course the following weekend.
  • Time-frame:  Five days and four nights.  Thursday morning, October 16 through Tuesday evening, October 21, 2014.
  • Total Distance:  140 miles.
  • Location:  Arizona’s Coconino County.  Starting in Flagstaff and riding around Sedona.
  • Elevation:  Highest point was about 7,400 feet.  Ranged from Sedona at about 3,500 feet and Flagstaff at about 6,600 feet.
  • Ride Type:  Bikepacking with some hotel staying.  A combination of packed in meals and restaurants.  More hotels and restaurants than camping and cooking.
  • Terrain:  About 33% very difficult, technical, and rocky offroad riding.  About 33% amazing singletrack.  About 33% great paement and dirt roads.  The difficult riding was the most difficult sustained technical riding I’ve ever done – on any type of bike.
  • Climate:
    • Daytime Temperature:  Averaged about 70 degrees.  Maxed out at about 80 and the daytime low was about 60.
    • Evening Temperature:  While camping the low was 32 degrees.  I’m pretty sure we saw sleet during one of the rain-showers.
  • Weather:  A bit of rain on three occasions but barely noticeable.  Otherwise, sunny or overcast all the time.  There were storms on the horizon but we managed to always be riding away from the rain and lightning.

This was the toughest trip I’ve taken.  And one of the best.  I was really sick for most of the trip and all I wanted to do was lie down most of the time.  The terrain and skyline made up for my illness.

Highlight of the trip:  Bailing on the Coconino route and finding some amazing trails that I didn’t expect.  We played it by ear and it worked out perfectly.

Most challenging aspects of the trip:

  • I started the adventure sick.  I had a pretty nasty cold.  It got worse as we rode.  It turned into some kind of fever and throat thing.  It began clearing up on the last day of riding.  I’ve never ridden this sick before – and never ridden such challenging terrain at altitude while being sick.  I rarely get sick but I’ve been really ill on the last two big rides I’ve done.
  • Not getting enough sleep before beginning the trip.  During the three nights before the trip I averaged 3.5 hours each.  This is stupid and I have to do a better job at this.
  • Challenging Route:  The Coconino 250 route – the Arizona Trail section we did – was way more challenging that I expected.  I definitely have trouble with altitude and being sick on top of that made the ride a lot tougher than it could have been.  However, the high plains with the endless cow hoof tracks for well over 10 miles provided crazy riding; endless lumpy riding that sapped every bit of forward momentum.  In fact, this year’s Coconino 250 altered the route and bypassed most of what Patria and I rode on Thursday; I don’t blame the race organizers for taking the road instead of these cow pasture trails.  The singletrack heading into Sedona was really technical and zero fun.  There is no way we’d have been able to ride 250 miles of this terrain in five days.  So, we stayed in Sedona and rode the good trails – not the hardest trails.  I have a ton of respect for any rider that completes the Coconino 250 route.

For more information about this specific trip, check out these posts:

Thoughts for the Next Adventure

Paper Map Navigation:  I’d like to do more of this but using a Garmin is too easy.

Improve Video:

  • Quality.
  • View variety:  Out front.  On fork leg.  Rear view.
  • Mounting system adjustability.

Compression Bag Mounting System:  The strapping system we use keeps coming loose.  It’s irritating to stop every few miles to tighten everything up.  This is a global problem with all the bag systems I’ve ever used.  I have a few ideas on now to improve the stability of the strapping system.  I’ll be testing this out soon.

Handlebar compression bag system:  Bar bags stink when you’re riding offroad; they rattle, move, destroy stuff, and more.  It’s long past due to create a compression system for the front end of the bike that integrates lighting, video, and GPS units.  It’s been on the list for nearly a year now.

Ride More:  Start riding my bike more so that I can physically manage these tough rides better.

Pack Lighter:  This includes packing for the flight and packing for the bikepacking.  With each ride I’m reducing weight but there’s still a long way to go.  I want to get everything under 100 lbs.  Here’s the actuals for this trip:

  • The Co-Motion case with the bike and a few other items weighed 48.5 lbs.
  • My suitcase weighed 49 lbs.
  • My carry on backpack weighed about 14 lbs.
  • I snuck my shoes and helmet into Patria’s luggage:  ~3 lbs.
  • What I had on my body:  street clothes, long sleeved riding jersey, riding jacket:  not counting this weight
  • Total weight:  115 lbs.

Some Ratings

  • Overall – to what extent would I ride here again:  Sedona:  8.  Beautiful scenery, cool terrain, good town.  The only reason it’s not a 10 is that I beleive we’ve ridden most of the trail I could on an Evergreen.
  • Ride Location:
    • 2:  Flagstaff:  I didn’t get to see enough of the the riding area but the local Arizona Trail is not for me.
    • 8:  Sedona:  I really liked the mountain biking we did.
  • Towns:  Sedona:  7.  Very touristy but that didn’t bother me.  Beautiful scenery everywhere.  Good Mexican food.  I’d go back without hesitation.  Flagstaff:  4.  Not so into what we found there, but it’s a good sized town so I can’t judge from out brief time there.
  • Ride Difficulty: 10 and 5:  The Arizona trail is the toughest I’ve done.  The Sedona trails we chose were pretty rideable for Evergreening.  However, we rode most of what we could.  If I went back to Sedona proper I’m not sure how many new trails we’d find that are not too technical.
  • Road:  2.  Great condition but no shoulder and nothing but highways.
  • Offroad:  Sedona 7:  What we did was a blast and I’d love to do it again.  But, we did most of the ‘easy’ stuff.  From here it would get progressively more technical.  Flagstaff:  2.  So much of the Arizona Trail we did was brutally difficult; not really what I could call fun.
  • Terrain:  7.  Shale rock.  Dusty.  Short steep climbs.
  • Weather:  8 – a bit chillier than ideal for me.

That’s about it.  I cannot wait for the next adventure!

Speed Dust - photo - Rob Vandermark



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